Students in medical assisting program practice blood draw.
Southwestern College students in the medical assisting program practice blood draws.

San Diego State University and Southwestern College have each been awarded a two-year $250,000 grant from Bank of America to support Hispanic students pursuing careers in high-growth fields, such as healthcare, through its Progresando Initiative. This initiative is part of Bank of America’s efforts to create economic opportunities for people and communities of color, including a $25 million jobs initiative that includes partnerships with Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and colleges to build career pathways for Hispanic students and address the shortage of culturally proficient, Spanish-speaking health providers.

SDSU and Southwestern College were two of 12 HSIs across the U.S. selected to join the program nationally, which also includes education consulting firm EAB providing research, technology, marketing and advisory services to participating HSIs.

A notable demand in particular for nurses – the largest of the healthcare professions – exists in California, where the nursing shortfall was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the nursing shortage continues to impact the nation, one alarming statistic shows fewer than 6% of nurses are Hispanic, which is disproportionate to the growing community that is often critically underserved in healthcare.

Nearly 70% of students served by the Southwestern Community College District are Hispanic, many of whom are the first generation in their families to go to college and often don’t have a roadmap to ease their transition into higher education. This means that, often, Hispanic students do not move beyond pre-requisite science courses into core program courses. The Progesando grants at SWC will serve more than 560 Hispanic students with programming needed complete and advance beyond the prerequisite coursework, onto to nursing, paramedic, dental hygiene and medical laboratory technician careers.

“This funding is critical to support our Hispanic students seeking careers in the healthcare fields,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Mark Sanchez. “We know those seeking medical services want to be attended to by bicultural, bilingual healthcare professionals. With this funding, we can help decrease the gap.”

SDSU will use its funding to create programming for Hispanic learners seeking careers in healthcare and behavioral health services, with assistance for financial challenges and lack of knowledge about the path to healthcare careers. Programming will include undergraduate, graduate, post baccalaureate and certificate programs to 200 Hispanic adult learners over two years. Matching funds of an additional $250,000 from the San Diego Foundation will provide paid opportunities for participants to shadow health career professionals, peer-to-peer mentorship and potential for paid internships to support the counties’ mental health initiatives.

“We’ve just hired an individual who will run the program and serve as coordinator and retention specialist,” said Emilio Ulloa, associate chief diversity officer for HSI and Regional Affairs at SDSU. “We’re going to be positioning this program to focus attention on this cohort of students and connect them to the wealth of resources we have on campus, in sciences and health and human services, and student affairs.”

“San Diego is home to some of the country’s premier healthcare institutions, and Progresando helps create a pathway toward fulfilling careers for SDSU and SWC’s Hispanic student population,” said Rick Bregman, president, Bank of America San Diego. “The shortage of healthcare workers is likely to increase over the next few years and we are thrilled to be able to help Hispanic students be part of the solution while creating better futures for themselves.”